Topics in this article

Reconsidering what we see as possible

What do the internet, smart phones and search engines have in common? Well, for one, each of these and many other technologies haven’t just solved a known problem but actually helped us imagine new use cases we just would not have thought of before. For example, the entire eEconomy, app economy or search advertising are completely new categories that were created to leverage the power of these breakthrough innovations.

Recent innovations at the edge are promising to have a similar level of seismic shift for manufacturing, healthcare and logistics industries, or broadly speaking, industries that had not transformed before.

The way we work and collaborate has been turned on its head in the last few decades. Or, to be specific, the way ‘knowledge workers’ operate has changed. While faced with IT requirements in the office or ‘carpeted floor’, organizations are also needing to look at the operational technology (OT) needed in their factories, or ‘concrete floor’ environments. We can leverage edge computing to enable meaningful interactions and management across both floors.

Just what is edge computing anyway – and why does it matter?

The combination of recent innovations including Private 5G, edge compute and the Internet of Things, among other technologies, are opening new use cases not only on the ‘carpeted floor’ but more importantly on the ‘concrete floor’ as well.

To understand the real power of these connected edge technologies, we need to first consider the status quo. In the status quo, we have a typical architecture, which is an input device that connects to the cloud, where cloud processing systems work with the shared data. Processing in the cloud can trigger other mechanisms that prompt further actions. Each of these steps introduce a level of lag or latency, which limits what is possible.

An example of this is cloud computing. The cloud revolution has indeed put the power of cloud computing and its vast elasticity in our hands. However, this also means any information now needs to travel through the internal network to the cloud, getting routed to the right data center or processing unit where it gets processed. The data then follows a similar path to the point of actual action. While this in itself is revolutionary, it still doesn’t support use cases where real time means real time, not near real time. For example, on a factory floor where automated ground vehicles and human beings are working together, any delay could pose a safety risk. Consequently, any such delays are just not acceptable.

This is where edge comes in. It’s a combination of IoT as an input device as well as IoT as an actuator. Combined with an ultra-low latency connectivity of Private 5G and the close proximity of compute (edge computing), everything works together to make these use cases where real time processing decisions and actions are essential, possible.

Although edge computing isn’t new, the digitalization of devices, people and places, is new, and this is what enables the on-site processing of business intelligence.

But what does this look like in the real world? This is an important consideration, and I find it easier to understand how edge computing, networking and IoT come together when looking at real-world scenarios and use cases.

Last year, we worked with Penske Entertainment to implement smart infrastructure that worked with local data processing and cloud platforms to deliver an exceptional fan experience at the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

200+ sensors, multiple media platforms, optimal experiences

With INDYCAR, where every car has over 200 sensors, and global fans expect real-time data, edge computing was critical in meeting expectations. With so many sensors creating massive amounts of data, having to wait for the data to be relayed to a data center or even to the cloud would likely result in delays that, even though small, would impact on the fan experience, causing the viewing experience and available information to be out of sync.

To avoid this exact situation, edge computing enables information to be processed where it’s being generated. This reduces network load and moves the viewing experience closer to real-time delivery. Instead of waiting for pit-time stats to be analyzed in a data center or processed in the cloud, this data can instead be shared as cars move in and out of the pit, enhancing the fan experience by increasing their ability to feel like they’re part of the event.

The improved capabilities meant that INDYCAR reached their highest television viewership in 19 years,1 increasing their viewer engagement by 19% from last year’s race. Let’s look at how critical the network and operating the IoT are in enabling the kind of smart infrastructure we see at the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.  

 INDYCAR racing ground

Revolutionizing fan experiences with edge computing

Power. Speed. Total control. This is Private 5G.

Leveraging the best of networking technologies and capabilities, Private 5G networks deliver the kind of speed and reliability critical to any real-time requirements. By implementing secure connectivity that delivers ultra-low latency and ultra-high bandwidth, lagging networks become a thing of the past and enables real-time decision-making and automation.

Real-time automation is something I believe needs to be implemented across broader use cases. For instance, tracking vulnerable patients such as infants and adults with dementia sees huge benefits from real-time processing and automation. When a vulnerable patient triggers a sensor in an unexpected area, hospitals can implement customized automatic actions such as locking down the specific area until the situation can be evaluated.  

Real-time analysis of health and diagnostic data across multiple patient and hospital imaging devices would also improve the quality and speed of care delivered. This approach enables improved experiences for both patients and clinicians, where the effects of skill shortages can be reduced. Accessing specialists to guide diagnosis and treatment also becomes more meaningful through real-time connectivity.

Medical professional in a ward

Delivering improved care through IoT and real-time capabilities

In my opinion, the power of a Private 5G network lies in the ability to customize it to meet unique use case needs such as the above example within the healthcare industry. Private 5G also removes several limitations and challenges as companies can implement a reliable network wherever they are, scaling as needed. With NTT’s Private 5G, the network can also be implemented and managed on an as-a-service basis, reducing monitoring and management requirements on the company’s side.

Curious about private 5G? Read our infographic

Operating the Internet of Things

With 90% of organizations either planning in the process of deploying IoT,  there shift from traditional IT to  OT on the ‘concrete floor’ becomes clear. OT monitors, manages and controls industrial equipment through sensors and devices set up to detect or cause changes in hardware or software used within the enterprise infrastructure. 

Consider my previous INDYCAR example, where every car has over 200 sensors which generate terabytes of data at the edge. This is an enormous amount of data which needs edge analytics before being shared via the cloud to multimedia and social platforms. Operational technology enables local processing to streamline data integration and transfer and deliver an enhanced fan experience.

Bringing it all together: as-a-service solutions

While enterprises have the technologies and infrastructures needed, they may need help in implementing and managing their edge-to-cloud environments and broadening use cases to become truly innovative in their industries. This is where I believe as-a-service solutions deliver value and optimal outcomes, including:

  • Reliable, custom-built networks which enable the ultra-low latency and ultra-high bandwidth needed for real-time data processing.
  • Management of the operational aspects of IoT to deliver improved productivity while ensuring your environment remains secure.
  • Moving data processing and storage closer to the connected edge to enable real-time decision-making and automation.  

Read more about Edge as a Service